On a cold and wet October Sunday morning there were a surprising number of people at the Vue cinema in Leicester’s Meridian Park. One explanation was that there was a kids club on where parents could benefit from discount tickets for their children, the other was that, like myself and Siggy, people had gambled that the 10:15am showing of Skyfall (or as we like to call it ‘Scaffold’ as it is pronounced by Adele) would be relatively quiet and chav free, and to quote our hero ‘everyone likes to gamble don’t they?’
Unlike previous first-screening-of-a-Sunday excursions we found the seats in Screen 1 gradually filling up as the clock clicked down to the start of one of the most hyped up and anticipated films of the year, until there were more than sixty or so punters rather than the usual six of us wishing they would just skip the trailers and adverts and get on with it.
Once the film began we were treated to one of the best pre-title opening sequences that a Bond film has had, sadly spoilt somewhat by the Top Gear special I saw earlier in the week. The car chase between Land Rover and Audi was short and sweet, to be quickly superseded by the motorcycle riding version of the now clichéd free-running across terracotta tiled roof sequences, motorcycles then made way for a Western style top of a train fight sequence including the first bits of overt product placement (the watch and some VW Beetles – new model I expect, although they were getting trashed so it was hard to tell). This leads to the first surprise of the film and the title sequence.
At which point I have to provide a SPOILER ALERT. Please do not read on if you don’t want spoilers. I will try and keep it to a minimum but it’s hard to write about the film without giving some plot points away.
Bond quickly leaves his Heineken and his seaside retreat when he discovers that MI6 probably could do with a hand back in Blightly. Some will say that the setting and circumstance is similar to how we find Jason Bourne at the start of the Bourne Supremacy, however Bond aficionados will point out that this and the obituary issued by M are plot points from Ian Fleming’s You Only Live Twice. Once back in London Bond finds MI6 in a state of disarray and under attack from an unknown but clever and dastardly terrorist. The terrorist appears to be specifically trying to discredit M, played wonderfully well for the seventh time by Dame Judi Dench.
Bond follows a trail to Shanghai cleverly introduced by Bond commenting that Ben Wishaw’s Q is the face of a ‘brave new world’ (cut to Shanghai night time skyline). This is typical of the edit and direction of the film which was excellent throughout and never let the story feel disjointed or badly paced. Wishaw (think Matt Smith from Doctor Who) has incidentally played alongside Daniel Craig before in Layer Cake. Bond shows off his new Sony phone, bumps off an assassin in Shanghai and picks up his pay from a casino in Macau. The female agent (Naomie Harris, more usually seen with black teeth in the Pirates of the Caribbean films) from the opening sequence is there to lend a hand.
Bond ditches Harris and gets on a boat with Severine (Bérénice Marlohe), who is the bad guy’s woman just like Domino Vitali in Thunderball or Camille Montes in Quantum of Solace, and shags her. It is somewhat of a cliché but she gets very little screen time and there will be some fans of the old school Bond who would have probably started up a hate mail campaign if there wasn’t at least on sex scene in the film. The film’s a 12A so there is no sex scene as such but these are the same people who would protest that Daniel Craig can’t play Bond because he’s blonde so they must be appeased with a quick shower scene and the worst two lines of the film.
Then we get to meet the bad guy, Silva, who is excellently played by Javier Bardem, who played an equally crooked and psychotic killer in the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men (you must see it if you haven’t). The location switches back to London. Q makes a fundamental gaff with Silva’s laptop which everyone should have seen coming and then Bond gets out the classic Aston Martin DB5 and drives up to Scotland, where we find out what the titular Skyfall is.
It is in the final scenes in Scotland where the film really stood out for me and was also at its bleakest. We finally get a long overdue ‘origin story’ – standard fodder in almost every hero tale of late but missing from Bond beyond the brief allusions made by Vesper on the train journey at the start of Casino Royale. We also get some improvisation from Bond devoid of gadgets (no invisible car here, but the Aston Martin still has one old trick up its sleeve) in preparation from the expected visit from Silva.
The final confrontation between Bond, M and Silva is powerful stuff and the closing scenes set up the new status quo ready for another Bond film, which hopefully judging by the surprising turn out this morning will not be plagued by funding issues, will move back towards the storyline built up in the two preceeding films and will also star Daniel Craig who was once again brilliant. I know he’s getting on a bit, but I would like him to do at least one more film before passing the baton on.
In the closing scenes Bond poses on top of a building surveying the London skyline much like Batman watching over Gotham City, he is met by the female agent who has decided, partly based on Bond’s advice, to get out of field work and get a desk job instead.
I cannot emphasize how impressed I was with this film after the mediocre Quantum of Solace, and apart from Q’s basic IT gaff I cannot fault it. Some will say that it was too dark, but there is a darkness that permeates most of Ian Fleming’s novels and Craig’s serious cinematic rendition of the character is so much closer to the original dysfunctional Bond of the page than the joke-smith of the screen played by the likes of Roger Moore. The film was stylish without trying too hard and the special effects realistic to the point of being overlooked, shadowed as they were by a damn good yarn.